Derrick Rose, Sports, and Role Models

Derrick Rose

Last night I read an article before bed that a high school friend posted on Facebook. Many times I simply ignore or just glance at articles posted online. Occasionally, I’ll even read the article and find it interesting. Never, has something an article said inspired me to write or respond. That is until now. The article, “Derrick Rose is no role model” is an opinion article from the Chicago Tribune yesterday. By its very title, the article (link here) is inflammatory. Derrick Rose is currently the toast of Chicago right now. If you are unaware or don’t follow sports, he’s one of the best basketball players alive right now. Last year he won the Most Valuable Player award in the NBA as the point guard for the Chicago Bulls. He was the youngest player to EVER win the award. He and  Michael Jordan, the consensus best player of all time, are the only Bulls to win the award. Before playing for his hometown Chicago Bulls, Derrick attended Memphis University where  in his only season he led his team to the National Championship game (unfortunately in that game he missed a critical free throw for his team, which led to them losing).  Derrick grew up in Englewood on the south side of Chicago in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country. He was the youngest of four brothers raised by his mother Brenda. Derrick Rose has risen from almost nothing to already be one of the best basketball players at age 23. So then why is Mark Yost, in his article, claiming that Derrick Rose should not be considered a role model?

A role model is typically defined as person whose “behavior, example or success” can be emulated by others, typically younger people. (The ironic thing about this post is that Derrick Rose is younger than I am, but I can definitely see him as a role model. Not as the defining role model of my life, that would be Jesus, but as someone whose example or success I could emulate.) Yost’s article, after describing that Rose and teammates showed up at mall to sign autographs and talk to fans, starts belittling Rose almost immediately:

Extra police were called in for crowd control. Northbrook firefighters on scene were propositioned by frantic girls who said they would do unmentionable things if they could just touch the hem of Rose’s jacket. And, of course, the local news media have added to the Cult of Rose, who has yet to lead his team to an NBA title, by comparing him to Michael Jordan, who won six. 

Yost here implicitly states that comparing Rose to Jordan and lauding his accomplishments is premature and undeserved because of the championships that Jordan won. However, if we look at their careers, Jordan did not win a championship until 1991, his sixth season in the NBA. Jordan did not win the MVP until his 4th season. Jordan did not lead his team to the conference championship until his 5th season where he was beaten by the two-time champion Detroit Pistons. Derrick Rose won the MVP in his 3rd season AND led his team to the conference championship in his 3rd season. If we are measuring by accomplishments, Derrick Rose has achieved MORE than Jordan at this point in his career. Now obviously, Jordan worked very hard to make his freakish athletic ability more than fun to watch, he worked hard to be the best player ever and win 6 championships while taking a two-year break to play baseball. We will see if Rose can accomplish something even close to that. But to undercut Rose now, at this point, is ridiculous. Jordan was loved just as much as Rose before he had won a single NBA championship. Time will tell how Rose stacks up against Jordan as far as championships go.

This opening snide remark aside, the article gets to its meat in the next paragraphs. Yost state his thesis that Rose should not be a role model and then he gives some reasons:

But if you look beyond the incessant media hype and the sold-out United Center, the truth is that Rose should not be a role model for Chicago kids, especially those in the economically challenged neighborhoods from whence he came. The reasons are many…

First is the false promise that many of these kids can grow up to be just like Rose…

Furthermore, these kids are often told to sacrifice academics for the sake of athletics…

Of course, Rose probably never worried about graduating. That’s because he was one of the so-called one-and-done kids.

And let’s not gloss over the one year that Rose spent at the University of Memphis. According to the NCAA, he cheated on his college entrance exams…

At first glance this seems like a pretty damning argument. What? Rose cheated on his college entrance exams? Wait, Rose was only one and done and didn’t finish college? What? He sacrificed his academics for athletic success? On the surface, these seem like terrible things…but why?

There are many, many issues I could write about here including, poverty, race, college athletics, academics, and the economy, but for now, let’s focus on the case of Derrick Rose.

Cheating has always been considered unfair and wrong. Everyone who wants to go to college takes the SAT or the ACT. No one else can do it for a student. The student alone must do it. So first off, it should be stated that it is not proven fact that Rose cheated on his entrance exams. There were allegations made and the NCAA made a ruling, but they are not a court of law and neither is public opinion to be confused for fact. The facts are that the NCAA declared Rose’s SAT invalidated. Scores are commonly thrown out because of irregularities. Many times there is no wrong-doing. The investigation could not prove that Derrick had cheated, but nonetheless they declared him ineligible following his freshman year. As Yost states, this didn’t matter, because he was “one and done.”

What we aren’t addressing here is that Yost is making the tacit argument that Academics and their fruits are better than Athletics and their fruits. In his conclusion he urges President Obama, another Chicagoan, to encourage kids to “aspire to be professors at the University of Chicago, lawyers or community organizers,” not to be like Derrick Rose. Yost is claiming that Derrick Rose is a lucky one, blessed with so much talent that he essentially won the lottery in life and can now play in the NBA, but it is unrealistic and setting kids up to fail to encourage them to be just like Rose.

Yost bases his claims on the facts that very few high school basketball players get scholarships (3%) and very few college basketball players make it to the NBA (2%). He doesn’t state, however, how many aspiring professors fail to make it to the U of Chicago or to be successful lawyers or community organizers and why these jobs are inherently better than being the best basketball player in the NBA. Indeed, what if Derrick Rose, instead of aspiring to be “like Mike” as the kids movie of the same name put it, Rose had aspired to be a U of C professor? Maybe he would have developed his work ethic in academics instead of sports and figured out a way to get to college without an athletic scholarship. Or perhaps Rose could have considered himself one of the lucky few after he got his scholarship to Memphis and then finished his education and let basketball take a back seat. Those are legitimate paths.

But he didn’t. And now he is one of, if not the best basketball player in the NBA. He just signed a contract for $95 million. I’ve seen Rose play live. He can take over games. He wins games for his team. He is a leader on the court. And remember that free throw he missed at Memphis which cost them the championship game? He shot 71% from the line as a freshman at Memphis. Last year he shot 86% from the line. As anyone who plays basketball can attest, natural talent can allow you to dunk a basketball, but it doesn’t help you make free throws when your body is tired and the game is on the line. Practice does. And sure, Rose makes millions a year, so one can argue that he should keep getting better to earn that very high salary. But so many people don’t. So many people with talent don’t fulfill their talent by complementing it with hard work, discipline, determination, and a positive attitude. These are CHARACTER traits. They are transferable, and why not develop them by doing something you love and are gifted at.

Eric Liddell

This is where I love the witness of Eric Liddell, Olympic Champion in the 400 meters in 1924. In the movie, Chariots of Fire, before the Olympics Eric’s sister who is a missionary is urging Eric to join her in mission work in China. Eric is a very devout Christian. He truly believes in the gospel and sharing it. He was known to preach before or after track meetings to the other athletes and fans alike. To Eric, his relationship with Jesus was most important. But did Eric choose to immediately go to China and forsake his incredible talent for mission work? No, he did not. Eric said something different, “I believe God has made me for a purpose, but he has also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” Eric eventually did go to China where he died at the end of World War II as a missionary. But first, he accomplished something great with his talent. He won the gold medal in the 400 meters. The 400 was an event that was not his best, but one that he had to train differently for because his main event was to be run on a Sunday, a day he felt that God called him to rest and not run on.

Back to Derrick Rose. Whether he acknowledges it or not, God made Derrick Rose an incredible athlete. Derrick Rose worked  hard and has become one of the best. Should Rose have given that up for a degree at Memphis? I would argue no. That would be akin to the parable Jesus told about the talents and Rose burying his talent. Rose is doing what he loves, making millions of dollars, and inspiring others by aspiring to be great. Most athletes eventually come to the realization that despite all their hard work they are not going to be as good as Derrick Rose or Eric Liddell. But in the process of trying to emulate these role models, they worked hard, they became better, and they suddenly had skills that were not there before.

Me, trying to do my best Eric Liddell impression

I’m one of these people. When I was in elementary school, I aspired to be like Michael Jordan and be in the NBA. By middle school, I realized that I had more talent in running than in basketball and so in high school I worked very hard to be the best distance runner I could be. While I was not recruited, I was able to run for a year at Princeton on the varsity cross county and track field teams. When I realized that I would improve more by running on my own, I switched to running marathons. I am not an elite marathoner. However, the process of entering into strict training for the marathon made me better in a lot of aspects of my life. I gained discipline, the ability to plan training and schedule, determination to achieve my goals, and a healthier body. Ultimately, I’m not like Derrick Rose. I don’t make millions to be an athlete. However, I’m still inspired to be great. When I see greatness whether it’s a Derrick Rose drive to the basket, or a Tiger Woods chip-in, or an Aaron Rodgers touchdown pass, I’m excited to be alive, I’m excited to see things work. And ultimately, that’s part of God’s calling for us. He calls us to take our talents and multiply them. I think Derrick Rose has done that and I hope he continues to do that.

Not everyone is talented in athletics. Some people are better at academics. Some are better in the arts. I’ll leave the argument of athletics vs academics vs the arts for another post. What I admire however, is people who take their talent and make it better and achieve something great, or if not something great they at least become a better version of themselves by trying. So in my book, Derrick Rose is a role model. As a writer, Mark Yost could use some more practice.

One thought on “Derrick Rose, Sports, and Role Models

  1. hardballcity says:

    Troy Joyner here from Houston, Tx. Love this article! I totally agree with you on every point and I am sure many others will. Thanks for sharing!

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